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Sabres' young trio to skate as linemates vs. Pens

Mittelstadt centered Nylander and Thompson at practice on Wednesday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Casey Mittelstadt formed quick friendships with Alexander Nylander and Tage Thompson when the three players convened for training camp in September. They briefly skated as linemates, first at the Prospects Challenge and then in a preseason game against Toronto. 

If practice on Wednesday was any indication, the young trio is set to be reunited for the Sabres' home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. 

"I think, obviously, I got to know them pretty well being the young guys," Mittelstadt said after practice on Tuesday. "It's good to see Nyls up here, I haven't gotten to see him in a while. I'm pretty good buddies with him and obviously me and Tage are really good buddies, being up here all year. 

"It's exciting. I think we should have some fun, make some plays. Make sure we keep it simple and do our job, but I think when we have the puck, we should be pretty dynamic."


The trio's dynamic qualities appealed to Phil Housley when the coach constructed his lineup for Wednesday, coming on the heels of two straight shutout losses. Nylander, Mittelstadt and Thompson skated on separate lines against Dallas on Tuesday but each managed to impress in their own way. 

"I'm excited to see what the young guys can bring," Housley said. "I really liked Tage's game. I thought Mittelstadt attacked the game. Alex, as the game wore on, got more comfortable and had a couple good looks.

"… I really liked what they brought. They were creating, they used their speed, they were attacking the game. We need more of it."

Thompson ranked third on the Sabres with four shots against the Stars after sitting as a healthy scratch in Colorado on Saturday. Housley said Thompson's effectiveness on offense tends to come when he utilizes his speed and plays physically, which was the case on Tuesday.

"He's skating and he's moving his feet," Housley said. "There's a speed element to his game that, when he does use it, he's very effective. He can find ways to create. When he's getting the puck and he's standing still and he's not getting off his mark, he's easily played. 

"One thing when I watch him and I know he's on is he's bringing a physical element too. He's getting on the forecheck, he's finishing his checks and from that point he's turning pucks over."

Nylander made his season debut against Dallas after being recalled on Sunday and said he felt more comfortable with each passing period. Mittelstadt said the winger made a strong impression during their time together at camp.

"I played with him quite a bit in the preseason," Mittelstadt said. "He's always skating. I think he's got a harder shot than he gets credit for and makes a lot of good little plays. From what I saw, we fed off each other pretty well. Obviously, it's been a while, but we'll try to pick up where we left off."

With Jack Eichel serving the final game of his two-game suspension, the trio figures to see ample opportunity against the dynamic Penguins lineup, which boasts Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad down the middle. 

Mittelstadt, a Crosby fan in his youth, said they'll be up to the challenge.

"Crosby's always been my favorite player," he said. "I always idolized him growing up, so playing against them is always pretty cool for me. I think being out there against them in preseason was a little weird, but now it's pretty normal.

"I think we just go out and play our game. If we play with the puck and we're attacking, then they can't do anything with it. Just try to control the play in their end and make them play defense as much as we can."


Injury report

Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Housley

Zach Bogosian is day-to-day with an upper-body injury after missing the third period of the team's game against Dallas on Tuesday. The defenseman ranks second on the Sabres with an average ice time of 21:39 in 61 games this season.  

Lines at practice

92 Alex Nylander - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 72 Tage Thompson
43 Conor Sheary - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 17 Vladimir Sobotka - 29 Jason Pominville
20 Scott Wilson - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo

Extra: 9 Jack Eichel, 28 Zemgus Girgensons

48 Matt Hunwick - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 62 Brandon Montour
6 Marco Scandella - 8 Casey Nelson

35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton

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